It’s strange to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Sure, over the past few years I’ve become a little rounder, have a few more wrinkles, a stomach littered with surgery scars. But I’m talking about something deeper. The experience of seeing your reflection and thinking who the hell is that?
This started a few years ago when chronic pain and infertility invaded my life. I’ve always had terrible periods but the pain moved from a few days a month to constant. I was also feeling betrayed by a body that left me with a negative pregnancy test every month. I was surrounded by health and vibrancy. Pregnancy announcements from friends whose bodies so easily complied. Those who could plan travel without having to ensure the dates didn’t align with their period. So breezy, so carefree.
I was in a therapy session when I realized how much anger I had toward my body. I heard myself saying things like: it’s broken, it doesn’t work, I hate how it looks, I hate how it feels, it can’t do the thing it was evolutionarily designed to do, it hurts all the time. That’s when I noticed the word I kept using, “it”.
My body had morphed from being part of me into a separate entity. Some thing I was shackled to that was intent on torturing me. This thing that kept finding new ways to bury me in grief.
Memories of my surgical photos appeared. A uterus covered in fibroids. Endometriosis splattered across my insides. Black cysts filling my ovaries.
And I felt compassion.
Compassion for myself. For my body that’s working so hard, despite disease. A body that allows me to enjoy my hobbies, pursue my passions, touch the ones I love, see the beauty of nature, listen to music, taste amazing food, travel.
I decided to stop being at war with my body. To start seeing it as part of me again. To learn how to feel comfortable and at peace in my skin.
I’m not quite there yet but I am finding ways to learn to love my body again. I thought I’d share a few with you in case this is something you’re struggling with too.
1. Check your negative self-talk.
Replace negative thoughts about your body with messages of love and appreciation. If you find yourself focusing on what your body can’t do, identify five things it allows you to do or does well. Guided meditation can be a great way to help you flip the script. A quick Google search will lead you to free meditations focused on loving your body, some even focus specifically on chronic illness.
2. Listen to what your body needs.
Are you feeling tired? Having a bad pain day? Do what you can to give your body what it’s asking for. Maybe you need more sleep, a long bath, a new heating pad, a day to rest, or to modify your diet. Instead of pushing through pain and fatigue, give your body what it needs to heal.
3. Find ways to pamper your body.
Book a massage or manicure. If funds are tight, find a friend or partner, look up some videos and learn how to give each other a kick-ass massage, free of charge. Have scented bath salts, oils, and candles on hand for relaxing baths. Indulge in your favorite food or dessert. Whatever pampering looks like to you, do that.
4. Reconnect with your sexuality.
Infertility and chronic illness can wreak havoc on your sexuality, and I’m not just talking about sex with someone else. I’m talking about your ability to feel sensual, connected to your sexual energy. If this is something you’ve lost, start identifying ways to reignite that spark.
Buy a new vibrator. Find some good erotica. Buy some sexy underwear or a satin robe. Explore your body. Listen to Prince. Focus on how things feel instead of how you look. Find ways to feel less stress and more in touch with your creativity. I recommend the book Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. If you’re still feeling stuck, consider seeing a sex therapist.
5. Get moving.
Find time each day to move your body. This could be anything from a walk or gentle yoga to strength training or dancing. Whatever it is, make sure you’re using your body every day. Feeling your blood flowing and your heart pumping is an immediate way to feel connected to your body.
6. Keep working toward pain relief.
If your infertility was caused by chronic illness, you may still be living with daily pain. While it may not be realistic to think you will ever be completely pain-free, make sure you’re doing what you can to minimize it. Do your research and become an advocate for your health. Doctors often dismiss women’s pain so you may have to find a doctor who specialized in your illness. Keep trying.
If you are experiencing pain during sex or have pelvic pain, consider seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist. I also love the book Heal Pelvic Pain by Amy Stein, which outlines a program you can implement at home. I also recommend episode 81: Pain and Illness of the Unf*ck Your Brain podcast on how your experience of pain is impacted by your thoughts about it, and how thought work can help.
7. Make your outward expression match your inner identity.
When you’re going through something as traumatic as infertility, your appearance may not be a top priority. For me, I found myself throwing on whatever jeans and t-shirt were clean, rarely wore makeup, and opted for a quick ponytail. Not that any of those things are bad, but I’ve always had a lot of fun dressing up and was sad to lose that part of my identity. For me, changing my hair, makeup and wardrobe is a fun way to express who I am to the world.
The past few months I’ve been inspired to reinvent my outward expression by playing with my appearance. I’ve gone platinum, started growing out my hair, bought a few fun summer outfits, got a new tattoo, and have been trying out new makeup looks.
This idea of outward expression is going to look different for everyone so there are no rules here. Think about what aspects of your appearance sound fun to play with and start experimenting.
Infertility sucks. But you’re past that now.
It’s time to forgive your body. It’s time to practice self-love and self-compassion. It’s time to get your swagger back.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you get there, so when you see your reflection in the mirror you recognize the beautiful babe staring back at you. The one deserving of love. The one who has survived trauma. The one who is resilient. The one who is strong. You.
How about you? Did infertility make you feel disconnected from your body? How have you been working to heal your relationship with your body? What’s worked for you?